Posted by: Jim Bell | March 3, 2011

A Buittle Bone

“That the inhabitants of the south of Scotland were formerly exceedingly superstitious is well known, but that which I am about to relate is of a darker shade of benighted credulity than has I think taken place elsewhere in this country, so near the middle of the nineteenth century.

“A highly respectable yeoman, who occupies an extensive farm in the parish of Buittle, near Castle Douglas, Kirkcudbrightshire, not more than two years since, submitting to the advice of his medical attendant, permitted one of his arms, which was diseased, to be amputated, and though the operation was skillfully performed, his health recovered very slowly. A few weeks after the amputated limb had been consigned to the family burial-place, a cannie old woman in the neighbourhood, being consulted as to the cause of the decline of the farmer’s health, recommended that his arm should be forthwith raised from the grave, and boiled till the flesh could be separated freely from the bones, and that a certain bone of one of the fingers of the hand should be taken from the others, which if worn by the former owner, either in his vest pocket, or sewn into his dress, on the same side from which the limb was cut, all pain or disease would be thereby soon dispelled, and robust health return to the suffering individual.

“Two neighbours, on hearing this advice, volunteered to superintend the resuscitation and boiling of the arm in question, and without delay proceeded with the sexton to the parish churchyard, where a strong peat fire was soon kindled, and a large pot, full of water, placed over the flame. So soon as the limb was raised out the grave, it was plunged into the scalding water in the pot, and allowed to remain there, till by boiling, the occult joint was easily separated from the rest.

“The grave-digger in this instance takes praise to himself for having returned to the grave all the remaining bones, flesh, and extract, as carefully as if it had been a common burial.

“Subsequently the unfortunate yeoman informed the writer of this brief memorandum, that although he bad kept the old knuckle-bone carefully in his vest pocket, as foolishly directed, for a considerable time, he was not sensible of any beneficial effect received by his so doing.

“In the eastern corner of the ivy, covered walls of the ruin of the old parish church of Buittle, the curious visitor may see the course of the darkening smoke of the fire used in this unhallowed incantation.”—Joseph Train.]

Observations on popular antiquities…


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